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What Happens When You Flip Your Classroom?

My state teachers’ union asked me to reflect on my experience flipping my classroom. Here’s what I wrote to explain both what I love about it and what it can never replace.  Choice snippets up front, and then the whole thing after the jump.

Flipped classrooms give students control over their own pace of consumption. They can watch me at regular speed or at 2x or, if they’re already confident about this topic, they can roll the dice and skip a lecture at their own risk. They can rewind, re-watch, and skip ahead as they’d like. Students don’t have to feel self-conscious about consuming new material slowly, nor do they have to feel the boredom of waiting for the rest of the class to catch up when they are ready to press on. And because students submit initial questions asynchronously, I can elevate the voices and insightful contributions of girls who — for whatever reason — might not otherwise have spoken up in a live-fire STEM classroom setting.

Learning is a fundamentally social activity. For thousands of years, young people have learned with others, and I blanch at “innovations” that shake this basic fact about the way kids develop. There is something special about experiencing a new idea for the first time with a room full of other people — something electric that is hard to capture if everyone has already seen the big idea independently and you’re just fine-tuning it as a group.

Sometimes, during work time, I used to interpret pin-drop silence and 100% engagement in my classroom as the sign that I had done something right and had designed an activity that gave every student an entry point and a path forward regardless of her/his level of prior knowledge.

Now, that mostly makes me nervous. Why isn’t anyone talking about anything? Why isn’t anyone laughing? Why isn’t anyone asking anyone else for help? I’ve played a lot with the flipped classroom structure over the past few years and it has yielded plenty of impressive benefits. But it can never replace the special magic that a skilled teacher can conjure at the whiteboard, pin-pricking students’ brains for the first time with a brand new idea.

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